Introduction to Raspberry Pi Zero W Wireless

In this article by Vasilis Tzivaras, the author of the book Raspberry Pi Zero W Wireless Projects, we will be covering the following topics:

  •  An overview of the Raspberry Pi family 
  • An introduction to the new Raspberry Pi Zero W
  • Distributions 
  • Common issues

Raspberry Pi Zero W is the new product of the Raspberry Pi Zero family. In early 2017, Raspberry Pi community has announced a new board with wireless extension. It offers wireless functionality and now everyone can develop his own projects without cables and other components. Comparing the new board with Raspberry Pi 3 Model B we can easily see that it is quite smaller with many possibilities over the Internet of Things. But what is a Raspberry Pi Zero W and why do you need it? Let' s go though the rest of the family and introduce the new board. In the following article we will cover the following topics:

(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)

Raspberry Pi family

As said earlier Raspberry Pi Zero W is the new member of Raspberry Pi family boards. All these years Raspberry Pi are evolving and become more user friendly with endless possibilities. Let's have a short look at the rest of the family so we can understand the difference of the Pi Zero board.

Right now, the heavy board is named Raspberry Pi 3 Model B. It is the best solution for projects such as face recognition, video tracking, gaming or anything else that is demanding:

RASPBERRY PI 3 MODEL B                                     RASPBERRY PI 3 MODEL B

It is the 3rd generation of Raspberry Pi boards after Raspberry Pi 2 and has the following specs: 

  • A 1.2GHz 64-bit quad-core ARMv8 CPU
  • 802.11n Wireless LAN
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) 
  • Like the Pi 2, it also has
  • 1GB RAM
  • 4 USB ports
  • 40 GPIO pins
  • Full HDMI port
  • Ethernet port
  • Combined 3.5mm audio jack and composite video 
  • Camera interface (CSI) 
  • Display interface (DSI) 
  • Micro SD card slot (now push-pull rather than push-push) 
  • VideoCore IV 3D graphics core

The next board is Raspberry Pi Zero, in which the Zero W was based. A small low cost and power board able to do many things:Raspberry Pi Zero                                     Raspberry Pi Zero

The specs of this board can be found as follows: 

  • 1GHz, Single-core CPU 
  • 512MB RAM 
  • Mini-HDMI port
  • Micro-USB OTG port 
  • Micro-USB power 
  • HAT-compatible 40-pin header 
  • Composite video and reset headers 
  • CSI camera connector (v1.3 only)

At this point we should not forget to mention that apart from the boards mentioned earlier there are several other modules and components such as the Sense Hat or Raspberry Pi Touch Display available which will work great for advance projects.

The 7″ Touchscreen Monitor for Raspberry Pi gives users the ability to create all-in-one, integrated projects such as tablets, infotainment systems and embedded projects:RASPBERRY PI Touch Display                                                        RASPBERRY PI Touch Display

Where Sense HAT is an add-on board for Raspberry Pi, made especially for the Astro Pi mission. The Sense HAT has an 8×8 RGB LED matrix, a five-button joystick and includes the following sensors:

  • Gyroscope
  • Accelerometer 
  • Magnetometer
  • Temperature 
  • Barometric pressure
  • Humidity 

Sense HAT                                                                       sense HAT

Stay tuned with more new boards and modules at the official website:

Raspberry Pi Zero W

Raspberry Pi Zero W is a small device that has the possibilities to be connected either on an external monitor or TV and of course it is connected to the internet. The operating system varies as there are many distros in the official page and almost everyone is baled on Linux systems.Raspberry Pi Zero W                                                        Raspberry Pi Zero W


With Raspberry Pi Zero W you have the ability to do almost everything, from automation to gaming! It is a small computer that allows you easily program with the help of the GPIO pins and some other components such as a camera. Its possibilities are endless!


If you have bought Raspberry PI 3 Model B you would be familiar with Cypress CYW43438 wireless chip. It provides 802.11n wireless LAN and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. The new Raspberry Pi Zero W is equipped with that wireless chip as well. Following you can find the specifications of the new board:

  • Dimensions: 65mm × 30mm × 5mm
  • SoC:Broadcom BCM 2835 chip
    • ARM11 at 1GHz, single core CPU
    • 512ΜΒ RAM
  • Storage: MicroSD card 
  • Video and Audio:1080P HD video and stereo audio via mini-HDMI connector
  • Power:5V, supplied via micro USB connector 
  • Wireless:2.4GHz 802.11 n wireless LAN
  • Bluetooth: Bluetooth classic 4.1 and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
  • Output: Micro USB 
  • GPIO: 40-pin GPIO, unpopulated

Raspberry Pi Zero W                               Raspberry Pi Zero W

Notice that all the components are on the top side of the board so you can easily choose your case without any problems and keep it safe. As far as the antenna concern, it is formed by etching away copper on each layer of the PCB. It may not be visible as it is in other similar boards but it is working great and offers quite a lot functionalities: Raspberry Pi Zero W Capacitors                 Raspberry Pi Zero W Capacitors

Also, the product is limited to only one piece per buyer and costs 10$. You can buy a full kit with microsd card, a case and some more extra components for about 45$ or choose the camera full kit which contains a small camera component for 55$.

Camera support

Image processing projects such as video tracking or face recognition require a camera. Following you can see the official camera support of Raspberry Pi Zero W. The camera can easily be mounted at the side of the board using a cable like the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B board:The official Camera support of Raspberry Pi Zero WThe official Camera support of Raspberry Pi Zero W

Depending on your distribution you many need to enable the camera though command line. More information about the usage of this module will be mentioned at the project.


Well building projects with the new board there are some other gadgets that you might find useful working with. Following there is list of some crucial components. Notice that if you buy Raspberry Pi Zero W kit, it includes some of them. So, be careful and don't double buy them:

  •  OTG cable 
  • powerHUB
  • GPIO header 
  • microSD card and card adapter 
  • HDMI to miniHDMI cable 
  • HDMI to VGA cable


The official site contains several distributions for downloading. The two basic operating systems that we will analyze after are RASPBIAN and NOOBS. Following you can see how the desktop environment looks like. Both RASPBIAN and NOOBS allows you to choose from two versions. There is the full version of the operating system and the lite one. Obviously the lite version does not contain everything that you might use so if you tend to use your Raspberry with a desktop environment choose and download the full version. On the other side if you tend to just ssh and do some basic stuff pick the lite one. It' s really up to you and of course you can easily download again anything you like and re-write your microSD card.

NOOBS distribution

Download NOOBS:

NOOBS distribution is for the new users with not so much knowledge in linux systems and Raspberry PI boards. As the official page says it is really "New Out Of the Box Software". There is also pre-installed NOOBS SD cards that you can purchase from many retailers, such as Pimoroni, Adafruit, and The Pi Hut, and of course you can download NOOBS and write your own microSD card. If you are having trouble with the specific distribution take a look at the following links:

Full guide at

View the video at

NOOBS operating system contains Raspbian and it provides various of other operating systems available to download.

RASPBIAN distribution

Download RASPBIAN:

Raspbian is the official supported operating system. It can be installed though NOOBS or be downloading the image file at the following link and going through the guide of the official website.

Image file:

It has pre-installed plenty of software such as Python, Scratch, Sonic Pi, Java, Mathematica, and more!

Furthermore, more distributions like Ubuntu MATE, Windows 10 IOT Core or Weather Station are meant to be installed for more specific projects like Internet of Things (IoT) or weather stations. To conclude with, the right distribution to install actually depends on your project and your expertise in Linux systems administration.

Raspberry Pi Zero W needs an microSD card for hosting any operating system. You are able to write Raspbian, Noobs, Ubuntu MATE, or any other operating system you like. So, all that you need to do is simple write your operating system to that microSD card.

First of all you have to download the image file from which, usually comes as a .zip file. Once downloaded, unzip the zip file, the full image is about 4.5 Gigabytes. Depending on your operating system you have to use different programs:

  •  7-Zip for Windows 
  • The Unarchiver for Mac 
  • Unzip for Linux

Now we are ready to write the image in the MicroSD card. You can easily write the .img file in the microSD card by following one of the next guides according to your system.

For Linux users dd tool is recommended. Before connecting your microSD card with your adaptor in your computer run the following command: 

df -h

Now connect your card and run the same command again. You must see some new records. For example if the new device is called /dev/sdd1 keep in your mind that the card is at /dev/sdd (without the 1).

The next step is to use the dd command and copy the image to the microSD card. We can do this by the following command: 

dd if= of=

Where if is the input file (image file or the distribution) and of is the output file (microSD card). Again be careful here and use only /dev/sdd or whatever is yours without any numbers. If you are having trouble with that please use the full manual at the following link A good tool that could help you out for that job is GParted. If it is not installed on your system you can easily install it with the following command: 

sudo apt-get install gparted

Then run sudogparted to start the tool. Its handles partitions very easily and you can format, delete or find information about all your mounted partitions.

More information about ddcan be found here:

For Mac OS users dd tool is always recommended:

For Windows users Win32DiskImager utility is recommended:

There are several other ways to write an image file in a microSD card. So, if you are against any kind of problems when following the guides above feel free to use any other guide available on the Internet. Now, assuming that everything is ok and the image is ready. You can now gently plugin the microcard to your Raspberry PI Zero W board.

Remember that you can always confirm that your download was successful with the sha1 code. In Linux systems you can use sha1sum followed by the file name (the image) and print the sha1 code that should and must be the same as it is at the end of the official page where you downloaded the image.

Common issues

Sometimes, working with Raspberry Pi boards can lead to issues. We all have faced some of them and hope to never face them again. The Pi Zero is so minimal and it can be tough to tell if it is working or not. Since, there is no LED on the board, sometimes a quick check if it is working properly or something went wrong is handy.

Debugging steps

With the following steps you will probably find its status:

  1. Take your board, with nothing in any slot or socket. Remove even the microSD card! 
  2. Take a normal micro-USB to USB-ADATA SYNC cable and connect the one side to your computer and the other side to the Pi's USB, (not the PWR_IN). 
  3. If the Zero is alive:
  • • On Windows the PC will go ding for the presence of new hardware and you should see BCM2708 Boot in Device Manager.
  • On Linux, with a ID 0a5c:2763 Broadcom Corp message from dmesg. Try to run dmesg in a Terminal before your plugin the USB and after that. You will find a new record there.

Output example:

[226314.048026] usb 4-2: new full-speed USB device number 82 using uhci_hcd [226314.213273] usb 4-2: New USB device found, idVendor=0a5c, idProduct=2763 [226314.213280] usb 4-2: New USB device strings: Mfr=1, Product=2, SerialNumber=0 [226314.213284] usb 4-2: Product: BCM2708 Boot [226314.213] usb 4-2: Manufacturer: Broadcom

If you see any of the preceding, so far so good, you know the Zero's not dead.

microSD card issue

Remember that if you boot your Raspberry and there is nothing working, you may have burned your microSD card wrong. This means that your card many not contain any boot partition as it should and it is not able to boot the first files. That problem occurs when the distribution is burned to /dev/sdd1 and not to /dev/sdd as we should. This is a quite common mistake and there will be no errors in your monitor. It will just not work!

Case protection

Raspberry Pi boards are electronics and we never place electronics in metallic surfaces or near magnetic objects. It will affect the booting operation of the Raspberry and it will probably not work. So a tip of advice, spend some extra money for the Raspberry PI Case and protect your board from anything like that. There are many problems and issues when hanging your raspberry pi using tacks. It may be silly, but there are many that do that.


Raspberry Pi Zero W is a new promising board allowing everyone to connect their devices to the Internet and use their skills to develop projects including software and hardware. This board is the new toy of any engineer interested in Internet of Things, security, automation and more! We have gone through an introduction in the new Raspberry Pi Zero board and the rest of its family and a brief analysis on some extra components that you should buy as well.

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